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Today's Story by Cezarija Abartis

You said that girls like bad boys when they’re young and don’t know better.

The Dance

Like all the girls, Andrea fell in love with the Beatles. Her friends portioned them out in their fantasies, and she was left with George, by reputation the quiet one, the sensitive one. Caroline picked John, the dangerous one; Paula picked Paul for his name and cuteness; Donna picked Ringo because he was short and so was she.

In the small wooden church on Sunday Andrea sat in back of the Wosniak family. Bobby was in her class, and he was smart and cute. He was not the dreamboat that Carl was, but he was nice. His neck was smooth and tan. Andrea’s mother once said that girls liked bad boys in their youth, but that they married good men when they grew up. Andrea didn’t even know any bad boys. She might have to skip that phase entirely. She thought that was unfair.

Andrea liked her family. She was lucky. Not like some families, who never allowed their kids to do anything and never took them out to a restaurant. Andrea understood her hardworking father and her reliable mother. She could count on them.

On Friday evening, she sat at her vanity table anticipating the dance the eighth graders were sponsoring, Spring Joy! On the wall was the pair of plaster of Paris bas-relief Spanish dancers that she chose for her twelfth birthday last year. She could almost hear their castanets as the woman leaped up and the man lifted his arms high to catch her. Outside her bedroom window the fog softened the houses and streets. She liked the way the fog made everything look possible. Next to the window, the stereo played the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” She hummed along to the scratchy record. She felt lucky to have her own hi-fi, but she wanted a better one. She had practiced dancing the Twist with Caroline for the past few weeks. Tonight, Andrea wore her green swishy-skirted dress instead of the heavy navy-blue uniform, and she would try to catch Carl’s eye. She was permitted to wear lipstick for this special occasion. She pursed her lips, put on Petunia Pink lipstick, and blotted it on a tissue. The lipstick tasted strange–meaty and thick. Briefly she allowed herself to pretend she might kiss Bobby good-night. Then she wondered if that was a sin, if that counted as an adulterous thought, and she decided not to enter that fantasy again.

Her mother knocked on her bedroom door. She stood in the doorway for a second, her head to one side as if assessing something. She still wore her apron from fixing supper. “You look pretty. You’ll dance yourself to exhaustion, I’m sure.”

“I’m nervous. What if nobody asks me?”

Her mother sat on the bed, her face calm while she plucked at the apron in her lap, making the edges even. “All the boys will ask you.”

“But what if they don’t?”

“Just go on your own. Dance a fast dance with one of your friends. Caroline is a good dancer. You’ve been practicing with her.” Her mother reached to pat Andrea’s hair, but Andrea moved her head away. She had carefully teased her hair into a smooth bubble. “Honey, it will be fine. Your dad will pick you up at eleven, and you can tell us all about the good time you had.”

The needle got stuck on the record, and Andrea rose to lift the arm of the stereo. “Did you dance every dance, Mom?”

“I didn’t know your father in school.”

Andrea believed her mother attractive, except she didn’t wear red nail polish like Caroline’s mother. “Did the other boys ask you?”

Her mother pulled at a strand of her own hair and got a small smile on her lips. Outside, between the street lamps, the fog made the world cloudy and secret. “There was Tommy. I think he had a crush on me. He asked me to dance every other dance.”

“Was he cute?”

“I suppose.” Her mother looked sideways, toward the window. “He had a cowlick on the top of his head. He had brown eyes. I sat on a hard chair against the wall next to my friend Bette. Tommy came up and asked to dance with me. He told Bette he would be back to dance with her next. But someone else asked Bette. She was the prettiest girl in the class.”

“Was he a bad boy?”


“You said that girls like bad boys when they’re young and don’t know better.”

“No, he got good grades, especially in math. He was going to be an engineer. He joked that he wanted to design a fast car for me, so I could visit him lickety-split.”

“What happened to him? Tommy.” Andrea liked saying his name, as if she knew him. She imagined there were other dances–with flashing lights, glass decorations, crimson punch bowls.

Her mother opened her hands apart wide as if she couldn’t explain. She glanced toward the window, where the fog cobwebbed everything. “He died. He died in Korea.” Her mother bowed her head. “War eats up the young. He was such a good dancer–you should’ve seen him jitterbug. I thought I would never get over his death.”

“But you met Dad.”

The spongy, cloudy light enclosed both of them. “That’s right.” Her mother patted Andrea’s hair. “And we had you.”

Andrea moved her head away. “I’m fine.”

“I know. I was thinking of Tommy.”

Her mother’s eyes focused on a country that Andrea could not go to, that Andrea had not suspected was in her mother. What other mysteries did her mother have?


Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Prime Number, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. One of her flashes was included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 list of flash fiction. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/